By Tony Johnson | Arts & Entertainment Editor

Nazi-zombies, mother dragons, and samurai; oh my! These diverse beings and more can be found in director Zack Snyder’s latest “epic,” Sucker Punch. However, instead of relying on blood and gore to amp up the action, Snyder decides to  lean on imagination, which gives the film more style than any other he’s done- as well as a PG-13 rating. No matter how much style the movie has, though, it suffers from a lack of well-thought out narrative.

The opening sequence is quite perplexing, if not flat-out creepy. Without giving too much away: every effect has its cause, and a young lady whose name we later learn is Baby Doll (a sweet Emily Browning filling in for Amanda Seyfried) is sent to an insane asylum within the first two or three minutes of the film. Such an odd but quick opening throws us right into the mind of the protagonist, but the problem remains. We hardly know the gal. That may have been Snyder’s intention, though; one impressive thing about that setup is that, at times, it truly does feel like we’re seeing Baby Doll’s perspective in first-person rather than third.

She’s not alone in there. As soon as she enters the asylum, she is given a tour by Rocket (the loveable but grizzled Jena Malone) and learns that she’s not the only one with a complicated background. She also learns, with the help of Dr. Vera Gorski (a mysterious Carla Gugino), that there are basically three worlds in life: reality, alternate reality- in which the girls pretend they are dancers in a burlesque club, bleh!- and imagination. Keeping up with this convoluted scheme would typically belie some payoff, but this film doesn’t have the intelligence of Inception.  Of course nothing beats the real world, and eventually the girls team up to take on reality. Through the “power of dance,” they advance into the world of imagination in order to find the key to freedom in the real world.

The biggest conflict of the movie actually comes out of the imagination portion, which is disappointing. Not only is the imagination extremely influenced by countless sources (loyal COD fans will enjoy the Nazi-zombie bit, and otaku will get a kick out of 10-foot Samurai), but it’s all over the place! In one sequence, the girls are in a medieval castle, fleeing a freakish dragon, and in the next they disarm a bomb on a speeding train filled with mechanical robots that bleed steam. Even with a PG-13 rating, the violence can be gratuitous at times due to prolonged creature battles and continual woman-beating. Much of the imagination sequences- no disrespect to the visual artists, who have crafted some jaw-dropping set pieces- don’t make sense. You can’t help but think throughout the movie, “Why would females imagine fighting in such places? Why would anyone?”. Who knows; it’s Hollywood.

Speaking of Hollywood, high-schoolers will be all grins when they see High School Musical alum Vanessa Hudgens all grown up as Blondie. Her acting hasn’t matured as she has, though. A more favorable supporting character would be Sweet Pea (played with a perfect balance of tough-girl attitude and vulnerability by rising star Abbie Cornish). There’s also a mysterious man known only as “wise man” (Scott Glenn), but he’s played too similarly to David Carradine’s Bill of the Kill Bill films.

For a movie that hopes to encourage audiences to break free by exploring their imagination, it is drearily derivative. Obvious influences from films such as Kill Bill, and even the recent Inception, can be seen, while more subtle influences from the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Tomb Raider can be found. It’s disappointing to see such lavish sequences and then realize they’re not as original as they first appeared to be. If the story was less tired and the imagination less scattered, it could’ve gotten away with being over-the-top. Unfortunately, this movie is one story Mr. Snyder should’ve locked in his mind for further development. C-

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